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2021 BMW 128ti: Bavarian hot hatch will target Golf GTI

John Law

BMW has confirmed that the new the 128ti will be arriving in Australia early in 2021. Pricing is yet to be determined, but it’s safe to assume the new 1 Series will sit at the pointy end of the traditional hot hatch market.

The current range-topping M135i launched to lukewarm reception, likely to do with the shadow of that car’s hooligan predecessor – the M140i.

But this new car has its sights firmly set on a different set of competitors – including the Golf GTI, arguably the quintessential hot hatch.

2021 BMW 128ti rear
It looks a lot like a 1 Series from here – but BMW promises greater engagement.

For those less familiar with BMW’s history, the choice of a ‘ti’ badge in place of an ‘M’ item may be confusing. That ti badge has adorned some pretty interesting Bavarians, though, firstly the 1800ti and most memorably the 89kW 2002ti.

More recent times have brought the ‘ti’ badge to more humble vehicles – adorning the 3 Series Compact of the 90s and 00s – the spiritual forefather to the 1 Series Hatch.

A glance at the spec-sheet reveals some goodies – the 128ti gets re-tuned M Sport suspension, a Torsen limited-slip differential on the front axle and a two-litre turbocharged ‘B48’ four-cylinder pumping out a healthy 180kW and 380Nm.

2021 BMW 128ti interior
The 1 Series possesses a very functional cabin.

This new performance-oriented model will slot between the three-cylinder 118i and M135i xDrive in the current Australian line-up.

Outside, new air-intake fins differentiate the 128ti from the rest of the 1 Series range, as do red accents on the pictured Alpine White vehicle. Though if ordered in Melbourne Red or Misano Blue, these are finished in piano black instead.

That red theme continues inside where it appears as contrast stitching on the suede cloth-appointed seats. The ti logo is embossed in the same colour fabric on the armrest and door panels.

2021 BMW 128ti Stitching
Red trimmings everywhere.

The usual 10.25-inch touchscreen runs the latest iDrive software, and there is a digital driver’s display in place of analogue dials – otherwise, the interior is familiar.

BMW promises that the 128ti’s modification will run deeper than just the trimmings, though. Engineers have reportedly been hard at work on chassis tuning, and have arrived at a 10mm lower ride height, re-tuned steering, stiffer springs, and beefier anti-roll bars borrowed front the M135i.

Stopping will be taken care of by four-piston front callipers that clamp 360mm discs, while the rears are a conventional single-piston sliding calliper. Also standard are 18-inch alloy wheels, with 19-inch items offered as an option.

2021 BMW 128ti profile
Both inside and out.

The suspension is otherwise a passive set-up without the option of adaptive damping, here’s hoping BMW nails it.

Ditching the all-wheel-drive system saves 80 kilograms, too, which should keep the front-drive 1 Series lighter on its feet than the quicker xDrive equipped M135i.

However, the lower traction levels keep the 128ti from getting close to the 4.8 seconds sprint of the M135i xDrive – BMW claims a conservative 6.3 second time from the bum-dragger.

2021 BMW 128ti rear
BMW promises an 80kg weight save over the M135i xDrive.

Pricing has not been revealed yet, but solid value will be critical if the 128ti is to sell well. Compared to the $45,990 118i M Sport, the new car boasts a lot of extra, and expensive, performance kit from the $63,990 M135i xDrive Pure.

If the 128ti arrives in Australia priced under $55,000 driveaway and carries through the extra engagement BMW is promising, the segment is in for a shake-up. We’ll have to wait until the first quarter of 2021 for further details followed by driving impressions of the new 128ti.